Phoebe Jones, a Master of Public Health student at Drexel UniversityJust in case you were looking to add one more item to your list of Ways Humanity Threatens Itself, you’ll want to dive right into Martin J. Blaser’s Missing Microbes, out this month from Henry Holt and Co. As if it were not enough that overuse of antibiotics increases resistance to potentially deadly pathogens, Blaser gives us a new reason to worry: the destruction of helpful microbes that have been living inside humans for 100,000-plus years. By forming a part of the fragile ecosystem that allows our bodies to function smoothly, these microorganisms may be more critical than experts once thought.
Blaser argues that today’s medical practices—particularly the overuse of antibiotics and Cesarean sections—are destroying the “microbiome,”the set of living microorganisms, including bacteria, within us that fosters human health.
Why should we care?
Ethicist Bernard Rollin: 'This Ain't Agriculture: How Industrial Agriculture Hurts Animals and the Public's Health'
Michael Yudell, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor, Drexel University School of Public Health
There are few issues in the public sector today that affect us all in the way that industrial animal agriculture does. We all eat, and almost all of the food we consume is produced by this system. Not only aren’t most of us aware of the nature of the system that provides us with our food sources (for most Americans, it is as if food appears magically on our plates every day), but most of us certainly aren’t aware of the impact that the system has on the public’s health. From the pesticides that impact us and our environment, to the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) that house many of the animals we eat, to the overuse of antibiotics throughout agriculture, our health and environment is ever at risk.
On Tuesday, renowned philosopher and ethicist Dr. Bernard Rollin from Colorado State University will be giving a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences on the history, ethics and public health impact of industrial animal agriculture. Dr. Rollin's free public lecture, which begins at 6 p.m., is entitled "This Ain't Agriculture: How Industrial Agriculture Hurts Animals and the Public's Health." The talk will examine the impact of industrial animal agriculture on animals, humans, and the environment, and proposes ways to improve this system and make it more sustainable. The event is co-sponsored by the Program for Public Health Ethics & History at the Drexel University School of Public Health (I am director of this program), the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Drexel, and the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Dr. Rollin is an expert in this area and has worked closely with both government and corporate interests with the goal of improving the current agricultural system. His 1982 book, Animal Rights and Human Morality, now in its third edition, is a classic in the field, and he has authored over 500 papers and 17 books, the most recent of which is the autobiographical Putting the Horse Before Descartes: My Life's Work on Behalf of Animals. Most recently, he served on the Pew National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which in 2008 released a series of landmark reports on the public health, environmental, social and animal welfare issues implicated in industrial animal agriculture.
Janet Golden, PhD, Professor of history, Rutgers University-CamdenAhhh, the quest for the perfect weight loss diet—the one that lets you eat and shed pounds. With so many Americans obese or overweight, the marketplace is full of diet books and over-the-counter drugs. There’s the Paleo diet —eat meat like a cave man! And the Mediterranean diet —eat vegetables like a peasant! And the grapefruit diet —eat like a Florida farmer!
There used to be more daring choices. Like the tapeworm egg diet. That’s right, a program that told you to swallow tapeworm eggs and lose weight.
In the early 20th century, marketers began selling this program to what were then called “fleshy people” under brand names like “Lard-B-Gone.” Sanitized tapeworm eggs delivered what they promised. You got rid of pounds without exercise, dieting, surgery, or dangerous drugs like arsenic pills, which were once a popular means of weight loss because they allegedly cut the appetite. With the tapeworm diet you swallowed the eggs and the tapeworm did all the work—consuming your meal while living in your digestive tract. Meanwhile, the tapeworm produced and shed millions of eggs in your intestine and grew up to 20 feet long.
Janet Golden, professor of history, Rutgers University-Camden
How do you know that your water is safe to drink, your food safe to eat, and the medical tests performed by your doctor are giving accurate results? What standards do we use? Are they applied across the United States? What will we find when we travel abroad?
To find out, I talked recently with Dr. Leonard Freedman, founding president of the Global Biological Standards Institute. He has more than 30 years of research, management and program development experience in molecular and cell biology, biomedical research and drug discovery in both the private sector and academia. Before starting the institute, Dr. Freedman was vice dean for research and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.
Following the World Health Organization's recent release of its report “Water Quality and Health Strategy, 2013-2020,” I was particularly interested in what standards mean for public health in the area of water and food safety.
Just when you thought our food supply was safe again.
In the wake of the government shutdown that suspended many of the essential protective services of the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (we wrote about this a few weeks back), an FDA report – released, appropriately, on Mischief Night – finds that the spices we season our foods with can be tainted with pathogens and filth.
A spicy meal, anyone?
“Tempeh Whiz wit'!” “Vegan cheesesteak!’’ Will these words soon be part of the cacophony of sizzling onion and clanking steel that echoes between Pat’s and Geno’s? Probably not, but recent activity in Philadelphia’s City Council indicates that this may not be as far off as you might imagine.
Well, OK, it's pretty far off. But it has reached the highest levels of government. Earlier this month, the City Council of Philadelphia unanimously approved a resolution in support of “Meatless Mondays.” The resolution, which is completely symbolic and includes no regulatory measures or spending, encourages residents and businesses across the City to curb carnivorous consumption on the first day of the work week. Simply put, the resolution is an attempt to raise awareness about healthy diet—a good thing from a public health perspective.
Councilman Bill Green (D-at large) was quoted in a press release from The Humane League stating: “I am happy to bring attention to this important issue. We can combat the epidemic of obesity, improve long-term health outcomes and potentially reduce the impact of livestock on global warming though this one, simple effort. And we can make our moms happy by eating our veggies and trying new things – a win-win-win!”
Teagan Keating, an MPH student at Drexel University
With a squeeze of lemon and a dash of hot sauce, raw oysters are a winter delicacy. Unfortunately, a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine warns, strains of Vibrio parahaemolyticus are contaminating some of them harvested from parts of the Atlantic Ocean.
What is Vibrio parahaemolyticus?
Vibrio is a group of bacteria that cause a variety of digestive issues. Other types of Vibrio cause severe illnesses such as cholera or blood infection. The bacteria noted in the letter, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, causes comparatively milder symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, nausea, fever, and chills. Oysters and other shellfish become contaminated because V. parahaemolyticus naturally occurs in the waters where they live. These shellfish are the usual cause of the illness. Vibriosis can be especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems but is rarely fatal for healthy people. The symptoms usually go away on their own within three days. (People taking antacids are more susceptible because stomach acid can help destroy bacteria, and antacids weaken the stomach acid.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are around 4,500 cases of vibriosis caused by the species parahaemolyticus each year.
Janet Golden, professor of history, Rutgers University-Camden
The recent government shutdown brought a halt to most of the work of two agencies overseeing food safety. (Meat and poultry inspection continued under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products, medical devices, most of our nation’s food supply, all cosmetics, dietary supplements, and products that give off radiation and for regulating tobacco products. Outbreaks of food-borne illness are monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is a critical public health task. As the CDC notes, in 2012, it monitored between 16 and 57 potential food poisoning clusters each week (emphasis mine).
While critics often rail about big government regulation, the fact is that laws providing for the safety of our food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices resulted from public uproar following exposes and tragedies. Over the past century, Americans have demanded more regulation, not less. And the result has been to make us safer and healthier.
Government oversight of our food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices came as the result of public insistence on cleanliness, safety, and honest labeling. Muckraking journalists, public health advocates and progressive women’s organizations together helped to secure passage of 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act that was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. Many credit Upton Sinclair’s horrifyingly graphic novel about the stockyards, The Jungle, published in 1906, for prompting public outrage that persuaded lawmakers to take action. As a result of this law, meat inspection began, the manufacture, transport and sale of adulterated food products and poisonous patent medicines was forbidden, and habit-forming drugs (among them cocaine and heroin) were required to have accurate labeling.